“One mustn’t dream of one’s future; one must earn it.” ― Carlos Ruiz Zafón
In recent memory, going off to college in America has been a different kind of experience for each generation. It was basically the same sort of rite of passage for almost 200 years. But, after World War 2, things began to change dramatically and haven’t stopped. I’ve lived my life in higher education during many of these changes. Today I’m
very much aware of the new territory that students, parents, faculty and administrators are trying to understand when it comes to succeeding in college. But there were times in my past when I was completely unaware of almost everything except my own private survival.Let me give you my perspective about college, today’s students and how I fit into this ongoing story…
College is a Different World Today
Looking back, when I went off to college I now realize how thoroughly unprepared I was. Even if I had been more awake and saw that I needed some help, there were very few resources available at that time. Even those that were, I was too busy and oblivious to find them. I worked while at college and tried to be involved in campus organizations. My learning was almost a sideline activity. I barely made it.
Today, things are very different in higher education across America. Here at HCU, a small community with even smaller cracks to fall through, there are a number of people and resources ready to help students succeed. Even when students don’t know what they don’t know – we’ve got teams ready to take them successfully into the deep water.
When I went off to school I didn’t have the mentors or the support system to prepare me or to help me weave my way through each semester making smart decisions. I didn’t fail any classes but I wasn’t really invested in learning. I remained on the outside just getting by, never taking advantage of all the resources, relationships and lessons that were waiting for me to reach out and grab. I didn’t know what I was missing.
Today, there are even more first-generation college students here in Texas who also need this same kind of social and academic support. HCU has put into practice new academic support systems, our faculty reach out to build mentoring relationships and campus organizations work to include first and second year students in meaningful and productive experiences. No student in my class or that I mentor ever sails past me without getting challenged to take advantage of our available resources.
My daughter went off to college having been raised by two professors. She was over prepared! She found a professional field of study and got involved in the hands-on learning that was essential to her success. There were a number of annual university-wide activities that she eagerly participated in. Her program of study seemed to be the important doorway that drew her in and kept her fire lit. In each class, she could quickly imagine herself doing with her life what she had always dreamed.
We also have great professional programs here at HBU; nursing, pre-med, business, education, cinema/media, legal studies, criminal justice, engineering, and health careers. But there are dozens of other academic areas of study that our students undertake with equal passion and energy.
I’m the chair of the department that has our legal studies and criminal justice programs. Students in these areas of study are planning on pursuing law school, the FBI, law enforcement, and public service (to name a few). We have full-time and adjunct faculty who are former and current professionals in these fields. This brings an exciting layer of real world experience to our learning environment. We make serious efforts to produce an environment like students in the professional schools have – learning that helps students better imagine their future.
Learning How to be a Thinker
I’ve been here at HCU for over 20 years. I’m certain I’ve changed. I must have. The students that I have been blessed to teach, mentor, counsel, pray with, confront, guide and watch from afar – have changed too. Not just as individuals. Of course that always happens.
But I speak of generations and their new characteristics. When I started here my students didn’t have cell phones and the addiction that goes with it. Today, my classes are filled with students from a variety of backgrounds. HCU is the most diverse private Christian university in the country. More and more first-generation students means less and less are prepared for college and the full time attention and work that college requires.
Our faculty and staff are learning and reorganizing courses constantly to be able to best meet the needs of the new students we meet each fall. I think we are having to do this at a faster pace. The rate of change seems to be increasing every year. Our technology is probably driving this more than anything else. But so is our shifting economy and fractured families. There are less certainties than when I went to college.
There are thinkers today who are worried that we will invent better and better artificial intelligence and one day we will regret it. Just like every other science fiction movie – the robots will take over! At a university, we’re not worried about robots taking over. We’re more sickened by the tragedy of too much automated thinking. Who really needs to learn anything if Google will tell you all the answers you need?
We have a core curriculum at HCU. Each student, regardless of major, will take the same classic courses of study that have been the building blocks of Western Civilization almost since it began. You’re familiar with these, you took many as you went through your own elementary and secondary education. Classes in history, literature, government and mathematics to name a few. Our aim here is to provide a learning opportunity for students to think, speak and write for themselves. These are accomplishments and attributes that no mysterious voice from a device can really satisfy. A trained thinker can learn to do anything well.
When I went to college it was almost a different world. It was a very different experience for our daughter as well. But what was the same remains the same here at HCU. It was a place where I was challenged to grow up, to think for myself, to meet new ideas and to make dozens of meaningful relationships that I carry with me to this day. It did change my life in so many ways. I’m here at HCU promising that life changing is still happening right here, right now.
D.R. Wilson, PhD
Professor of Sociology
Chair, Department of Law and Society